Do you know as much about the Old Testament as you do about the New Testament? The women’s Bible study group in my church didn’t, and they decided to do something about it. When I joined in, they had been faithfully studying through books of the Old Testament for over a year. So when they asked me if I would teach them, I thought Hebrews would make a perfect connection for us to study how all that we have been learning in the Old Testament pointed to Christ.
This sermon-letter was written to exhort the intended first audience of Jewish believers to persevere in the Christian faith and not turn back to their old covenant sacrificial system and ceremonies. Of course, in his providence, it is also God’s word to us. Indeed, Hebrews gives us all a better understanding of the true prophet, priest, and king to which all others were only a type and shadow. After studying the indicatives of who God is and what he has done in Christ, I was captivated with a particular imperative the preacher lays out to press the reader to perseverance: “Let us hold fast to our confession of hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23).
What is the confession of our hope? This is an important question. In fact, I would like to propose that our answer to this question, and our ability to proactively cling to a proper profession of what we believe, is directly connected to our perseverance in the Christian life. All Christians need to know why they are persevering, whether it is through a fiery trial or the tedium of everyday living. Faith is a gift, but faith is a fighting grace. And this entails a capacity to grasp what is true about the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Think about it. The author to the Hebrews is exhorting us to hold fast to something, and that something is vital to our perseverance in the Christian faith.
Christians, what do you believe? I love the motto of the White Horse Inn: “Know what you believe, and why you believe it.” Theology aims to answer both the what and the why by studying the Who. If we are to hold fast to the confession of our hope to persevere in the Christian life, we’d better know what that confession is.
This exhortation from Hebrews 10:23 is the center of three “let us” statements the author gives to the Hebrews after teaching how the person and work of Christ gives them (and us) direct access to God through a new and better covenant, which sums up the message of perseverance that is the theme of the whole sermon-letter. (1) With this new affirmation that we have to come before the throne of God, the pastor implores:
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.(Heb. 10:22-25)
Before this, the writer carefully gives us a detailed explanation of the Christian confession of hope. Hope is not the same as wishful thinking; it is based on a person. In Hebrews, we find that all of the Old Testament heroes (Gideon, Barak, Samson, and others) pointed to the true hero, Jesus Christ. He is the true prophet, the true priest, and the true king. And from the beginning verses we get the crux of our confession: “We see Jesus as Lord both in his person and in his work.” (2) He is our true hope for salvation, as well as for our perseverance in the Christian life. Our confession of hope, “Jesus is Lord,” shows that we are holding fast to a person, the Son of God.
The Westminster Confession of Faith states that our perseverance is not based on any strength or determination of our own, but on the promise of God orchestrated and carried out by all three persons of the Trinity:
This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which arises also the certainty and infallibility thereof. (WCF 17:2)
Here we see that our ability to hold fast without wavering is grounded in the Father’s great love in electing us, the person and work of his Son Jesus Christ, and the application of this work to the believer by the Holy Spirit, all in concordance with the oath made between the three persons of the Trinity. Hebrews opens with how God has pursued his people in Christ, and I believe it has the best opening hook out of all sixty-six books in the Bible:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Heb. 1:1-3)
While some people want to hear a special revelation from God, we learn in these first few verses that Jesus the Son is the ultimate revelation, the true prophet by whom God has spoken to us. This Son is the heir of all things and therefore he must have the ultimate kingdom. As we know that the world was created by God’s speech, we see here that the Son has created the world. This prophet who has spoken to us in the last days is the same One who spoke the world into existence! He is described as “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (v. 3). God has spoken to his people! And he sustains this very universe by the word of his power. What kind of power is this? It is one that can penetrate our souls and hearts of stone and make a new creation.
Amazingly, Christ was made like us in every way, though without sin, so that in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, he could fulfill all righteousness on our behalf and fully pay the penalty for our sin against God as “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). What assurance it is for us to know that Jesus has not only finished the work in his life and death on the cross for our justification, but that he is also even now sitting at the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf. Because Jesus is Lord in his person and his work, we can have full assurance of our hope until the end (Heb. 6:11). And by faith we confess the last three lines of the Apostles’ Creed: “We believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”
Maybe this appeal to “hold fast” sounds a bit vague to you. What does that really mean? And how do you do it’in real life? I propose that this is both simple and extremely difficult. Basically, “holding fast” means that you grab tightly and don’t let go. This involves stamina and conditioning in the Christian life. Therefore, the preacher finds this exhortation worth repeating:
For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (Heb. 3:14)
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. (Heb. 4:14)
So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. (Heb. 6:17, 18)
And this isn’t an urging that we find only in the sermon-letter to the Hebrews. We read the same encouragement in passages such as 1 Corinthians 15:1-2; Philippians 2:14, 16; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; and Revelation 2:25-26.
John Owen explains that this command in Hebrews to hold fast supposes an opposing force, a “great danger” even: “To ‘hold fast’ implies the putting forth of our utmost strength and endeavors in the defense of our profession, and a constant perseverance in so doing.” (3) Holding fast to our confession of hope requires conditioning. It’s not merely something we recite when times are getting tough, but rather a persistent fight to exercise our faith by actively engaging in the gospel revealed in God’s word, no matter what our circumstances.
Thankfully, Christian perseverance isn’t a battle we fight alone. Our exhortation begins with two important words that can be easily skipped over. It could just read, “Hold fast to your confession of hope,” but it doesn’t. This is a sermon-letter addressing a congregation. And so it begins, “Let us hold fast to our confession of hope.” The first thing we must realize is that we hold fast to our confession in the covenant community of the church.
God didn’t send us out alone as strangers and pilgrims on this earth. He has the entire church as the body of Christ, sisters and brothers in the Lord, who accompany us. He even set aside the first day of every week for worship together, a glimpse of what is to come. And so the preacher to the Hebrews labors to explain why they can now draw near to God in worship:
Since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb. 10:19-22)
Because our great priest has opened a new and living way for us through the sacrifice of his own flesh, we can now “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith,” and “consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much more as you see the day approaching” (vv. 24-25).
God has promised to bless us through the ordinary means of the preached word and the proper administration of the sacraments. He faithfully delivers our confession of hope within this context of assembling for worship. We are blessed to be a part of the body of Christ, helping one another to hold on in encouragement and exhortation.
The million-dollar question is: How can I know this is true? How can believers be secure that we will indeed persevere and be made perfect in our glorification? Hebrews 10:23 tells us the answer: Because “he who promised is faithful.” The weight of our expectation is based on the promise of God. This theme of the promise of God runs through the whole sermon-letter to the Hebrews as the preacher expounds on the new covenant they are under.
The language of covenants and covenant treaties is not common today, as we usually talk more in terms of promises and contracts. And, unfortunately, we see a lot of those broken. Of course we know that the security of a promise depends on the one who is making the promise, which is the beauty of an oath made by God himself (see Heb. 6:13-20). The confession of hope that we are to lay hold of isn’t the record of our own works. It isn’t the resources of our own strength to persevere. Our confession of hope also reveals that we are indeed holding fast to a person, the Son of God. He is our righteousness, he paid our debt, and we have new life in him as he is now at the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf. We persevere because our faithful God is preserving us in Christ through his Holy Spirit. To him be all the glory!